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Canada’s housing market over due for full-blown correction: economist

Fin - Balance Sheet - CA
The number of homes sold in Canada decreased by almost 16% in February compared to last year, while the average price lost about 1%

Canada’s housing market continues to show strength overall, with a slowdown in a few urban centres, but it “may only be a matter of timing” before there’s a full-blown correction, warns an economist.

Capital Economics economist David Madani, known for his bearish outlook on Canada’s housing sector, believes the market is overdue for a correction of as much as 25 per cent.

He says the recent softness in cities such as Halifax, Winnipeg and Victoria are just the beginning. Larger “overvalued markets” such as Toronto and Vancouver, are expected to follow.

While many economists are calling for the “soft landing” in Canada’s housing market, Madani forecasts something more severe.

“Overall, with house prices already declining in some smaller regions, it may only be a matter of timing then before prices in other larger and much more overvalued markets begin to fall more sharply,” he says in a new report.

“We still firmly believe that the housing market will ultimately experience a hard landing with prices falling by as much as 25 per cent.”

Home prices rose 7.6 per cent year-over-year across Canada in April, to an average $409,708, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), which continues to call the Canadian market “in balanced territory.” CREA says the MLS® Home Price Index rose 5 per cent year-over-year in April.

Despite a few “lingering hotspots,” BMO Capital Markets senior economist Sal Guatieri says Canada’s housing market is “stable, if not boring, which is good in the face of dire warnings about a crash.”

He notes strong population growth and economies in Western Canada are supporting market in B.C, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Greater Toronto, while Quebec and much of Atlantic Canada are seeing more pressure.

Madani acknowledges the performance of Canada's housing market has been “astounding,” over the past year or so. Still, he’s not a believer.

“While this fact has convinced some observers that the housing market is healthy, the regional breakdown reveals some troubling twists and turns,” he says. “In short, Canada's housing market appears to be fraying, surviving for the time being on rapidly rising prices in some of the most overvalued and more thinly traded markets.”

Madani’s update comes alongside a working paper released by the International Monetary Fund looking at how effective Canada’s policy measures have been to address a housing boom.

“Canada’s housing boom is the single most important domestic risk to financial stability,” the report states, making note of rising house prices alongside an increase in mortgage and consumer debt.

It acknowledges policymaker moves to tighten mortgage rules in recent years, but says more should be considered.

“The international experience suggests that—in addition to tighter LTV [loan-to-value limits] and shorter amortization periods—lower caps on DTI {debt-to-income} ratios and higher risk weights could be effective,” the report states.

It suggests “structural measures” in the medium-term, such as strengthening lending guidelines and increasing the role of the private sector in mortgage insurance.

The paper also calls for the eventual elimination of the government’s role in mortgage insurance in the longer-term, as was done in Australia.